Our Favorite “Great American”

Staff Written Community, Featured

By Patrick Yost

 editor 

On a waist-high table overflowing with gifts for retiring Morgan County School Superintendent, Dr. James Woodard, was an American flag embossed on wood. The Morgan County “M” logo replaced the stars on the flag and underneath it read simply: ‘To our favorite Great American.”

To anyone who knows Dr. Woodard, and that army is legion, knows Dr. Woodard’s catchphrase. “You’re a great American,” he says after a meeting, after lunch, after a telephone conservation.

So last Wednesday, in the sparkling center of the almost brand-new Morgan County High School, a large crowd gathered to honor the man who, in the past six years, may have had the greatest impact on the physical plant of the local school system in history.

“We wanted a servant leader,” said Morgan County Board of Education Chairman Nelson Hale, who will also end his tenure on the board at the end of this year, “He has done that in spades.”

Hale said when the board began its search to find a new school superintendent a primary requirement was a person who could develop and maintain a college and career academy. The board knew, Hale said, that buildings and change would be necessary. Dr. Woodard, he said, seemed a perfect fit. 

Then the chairman laughed. “We didn’t know it was going to be done at this scale.”

Since his hiring Dr. Woodard has supervised both the construction and financing of a widely ambitious $48 million building program that has included the razing of the Morgan County High School, construction of a new high school and the building of a new Morgan County Middle School. Both schools came with massive technology upgrades and energy efficiency and will leave a long-lasting legacy and footprint on Dr. Woodard’s term. When Career, Technical and Agricultural Education Director Jennifer Butler had an opportunity to express Dr. Woodard’s impact on the system she was contemplative. “It’s hard to express the opportunities he’s created for us. He’s not your typical leader.”

So when Butler presented Dr. Woodard with the school’s first-ever “James Woodard Great American Awards the moment was fitting. The award, she said, would annually be presented to a student, faculty member or community member who “leads a quiet life, minds their own business and works with their hands so that they may win the respect of others.” The plaque will be hung at the Morgan County High School with each new recipient’s name engraved on the award.

Nelson said Dr. Woodard is “certainly a man of faith.”

“He’s a very strong family man. Family and faith are the biggest things we could tell about his character,” Nelson said.

An emotional Dr. Woodard scanned the crowd and took a moment. He saw his father, his wife and children and teachers and associates he has worked with during his long and illustrious career. “I think there is someone from every aspect of my career here,” he said.

“I have been blessed with a very supportive board of education here. There is strong community support for education.”

And he took one more look before well wishers began their approach, before he would spend the next two hours shaking hands and reminding everyone that they, too, were “A Great American.”

“One time, one moment,” he told the crowd. “our lives crossed and I was blessed.”

“My life,” he said, “has been blessed.”

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